Warning: This review is long and spoilery!
Inhale, exhale, inhale…now exhale one more time. Justice League is finally out and its….adequate?
Justice League certainly doesn’t make it easy. It’s asking you to choose between cynicism and optimism because it’s not a great film but it is entertaining. It doesn’t have the benefit of being both a good film structurally and a lot of fun to watch, like Wonder Woman earlier this year so if you can’t shut off that voice inside your head then this isn’t the film for you.
I don’t remember a film getting so much pre-release slag before but this film seemed doomed from the start in spite of some general optimism from some groups, mostly Snyder fans. With so many hands in the pot this troubled birth of a film likely never stood a chance and it’s not unobvious that as they struggled with the league to adequately show their power, so to does this film. It literally breaks apart at the seams and that’s because there’s no connective tissue. There are simply too many scenes that inexplicably start and end without a premise or natural flow causing choppy filmmaking.
And what’s shocking is how they managed to fumble a relatively basic narrative. Steppenwolf needs the three mother boxes so that he can destroy earth. His chances have never been better as Superman is dead and there are apparently no more Green Lanterns in Sector 2814 left to defend earth. Batman, still upset over the death of Superman, gathers the team with the help of Diana to ward off the upcoming invasion. Simple enough story (relatively), so how did they manage to mess this up?
Justice Leagueis essentially a series of scenes about heroes who have known each other for a long time telling each other things they already know for our benefit. The relaying of exposition for the audience’s sake is different from a plot derivative mechanism. One feels like natural storytelling and the other forced and hamfisted. So rather than develop real character attunement we’re rushed off to the next information delivery session so that after a while character development becomes a technicality rather than conscious purposeful storytelling.
Here’s where the rushed DC formula has failed them. In trying to introduce us to three massive DC characters, all of which are expected to have solo outings, they’re trying to do too much with too little time. Without knowing it they have created a systematically head spin of a film. And at only 2 hours long, it moves at too quick of a pace to gain a proper footing which is too bad because I would have gladly sat through an extra 30-40 minutes if it meant getting some things right.
The script by Snyder, Whedon and Chris Terrio does seem the product of three heads. It’s confusing that they couldn’t come up with something a little more creative and inspiring given the material available to them and DC head Geoff Johns having a more direct influence this time around. That to me is one of really big sins, amongst the spectacle and iconoclast is a pretty horrible screenplay. The dialogue misses most of the time and if not for inspired performances by the leads and supporting cast members Jeremy Irons, Amber Heard, J.K. Simmons and Amy Adams, it would be cringe worthy.
Snyder isn’t particular good at that either but it’s clear he’s more comfortable in that zone. But do they work together? Not really and the scenes which Whedon had his finger on are obvious and stand out in a not so great way. It truly does feel like two separate films at times.
Now, a quick note about the CGI. The fact is if the rest of the house was in order, nobody would be talking about it but when you’re bored, your eyes wander. There are two elements which are simply unacceptable for a studio with as much money and talent as Warner Bros., the look of Steppenwolf and the infamous Henry Cavill upper lip. The latter being very noticeable despite what people are saying, especially in the opening scene. More on that later.
As far as the actual league is concerned, it’s a strange series of hits and misses. In many ways I prefer Affleck’s Batman v Superman version as opposed to this one who seemed bored and heartless at times. His humour didn’t work for me and one film wasn’t enough time to make me forget his violent care free days of Dawn of Justice, nor did it make it seem believable. I haven’t seen MY Batman on-screen yet and it appears I’m still waiting…you listening Mr. Reeves? I feel this character suffered the most from having two directors as it’s clear who was in charge of Batman and who was in charge of Bruce Wayne. For me, this was a step backwards, not forwards.
Victor Stone/Cyborg is essential to the plot as he provides the MacGuffin but is forgettable the rest of the time. Truth be told Cyborg was an odd pick for this Justice League film and I’m not convinced they’ve done enough ground work here to justify a solo effort down the road. Ray Fisher is fine in the role it’s just he wasn’t really given much to do. And for all the early complaining, the Cyborg CGI actually looked good to me and when he’s allowed to stretch his metal legs so to speak, he’s all the better for it.
Jason Mamoa’s take on Aquaman is strange and confusing as he’s not the Arthur Curry we know from the comics in terms of looks and attitude. I suspect the fact that his solo film comes out next year is the reason they downplayed his powers a little bit but at the same time they show what his people are capable of so why not him? On a side note, a bit disappointed not seeing Willem Dafoe as Vulko but Amber Heard’s Queen Mera was amazing in an all too brief appearance. But this produces another “for out benefit” scene where instead of communicating with each other telepathically as they would have, Mera and Curry speak inside of a bubble she created. And even though we had plenty of time to adjust to the new look of Aquaman, it was weird seeing the classic green/orange Arthur Curry in the DC intro sequence at the beginning of the film. Still, Mamoa is a presence on-screen and the scenes where he’s “rockin & rollin” are fun to watch even though it’s not classic Aquaman. Next year’s release of James Wan’s Aquaman should be something to watch based on the underwater scenes in JL.
Superman, other than aforementioned bad CGI, is great and in many ways is the Superman we’ve wanted all along. The path it took to get there was bumpy at times but even though his screen time is short it’s very impactful. When he fights the league after they’ve brought him to life and his contributions to the final battle are some of the best Superman images we’ve ever seen on-screen. And the final shot of the movie, pre credits, will make you stand up and cheer if you’re a fan of classic Superman tropes. His re-entry is of course predictable but it still would’ve been a bigger moment but that is, as mentioned, part of the choppy scene structure that plagues this film throughout.
Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman continues to be rock solid and is definitely the glue that holds this group together. It’s too bad we won’t see her now until November 2019 since she’s made this year the year of Wonder Woman. The adjustments they’ve made to her character’s history ever since Wonder Woman earlier this year seemed to have enriched the character even more and having her take the spotlight in a modern age will pay off huge down the road. It’s a small thing but for future appearances, they can forego any back story elements and focus on a tight present day exposition. She’s as strong and as powerful as ever in really is the leader of the version of the Justice League.
Erza Miller as Barry Allen/Flash is a scene stealer with his awkward nerdy take on the Scarlett Speedster. A Flashpoint film is all but assured now after this performance and even though certain aspects of Barry’s life was cut from the film (Iris West) we do get to see Billy Crudup as his imprisoned father, Henry Allen, setting up the solo flash film. His fish out of water take provided the best levity in the film hands down and his comedic bits easily had the best payoff. Miller already seems very comfortable in the role and I can’t wait to see more of him.
Okay, now Steppenwolf. You know the villain had to be disposable but it’s too bad they couldn’t get more out of this character as it has huge implications later on. Ciaran Hinds voice is largely wasted and lost in a sea of shockingly bad voice mods and CGI. I can’t believe a studio as big as Warner Bros. let this make its way on-screen for their biggest DC movie to date. Also, hard pressed to think that Snyder and Whedon looked at this and were happy with it. Something else is at play here and I suspect them not wanting to compete with Star Wars or delay it into 2018 (Avengers) had something to do with it.
Still, bad CGI would’ve been forgiven is the character was strong, and as villains go, he was not. Funny since the “weak villain” thing is supposed to be Marvels not DC but here we are. And with all the Darkseid scenes removed from the film Steppenwolf becomes as disposable as any other villain. It’s that lack of respect for a king DC villain that disappoints me almost more than anything else and is easily the worst thing about Justice League.
Danny Elfman’s composition taps into his classic 1989 Batman score and even a little John Williams classic Superman leitmotif. Those are both effective but too often reveal his original work as derivative and uninspiring. I’m sure given more time he could have come up with something grand but instead he had to lean on recycled material. As a fan of Hans Zimmer’s work it’s too bad they couldn’t get him on board for one more. There’s nothing particular wrong with the soundtrack, it’s just nothing special either. The best moments symphonically were, as mentioned, the classic Batman bits from his previous work.
So with all that in mind…did I like it? I kinda did actually.
Like I said, if you can leave the cynicism at the door, you’ll have a great time. It’s by no means my favourite this year but if they do one thing well it’s that they portray these gods among us in a generally flattering sense. And that’s all you really want right?
The flaws, while many, didn’t collectively ruin my viewing and I was so in love with the Flash bits and Superman’s handling that I was willing to give the rest a pass. Anything involving Miller was incredible to watch and this is the closest thing to Superman we’ve seen since Christopher Reeve. Although I liked the growing pains in Man of Steel, this felt like Henry Cavill has now become the Superman we can all get behind.
Wonder Woman stood tall and mighty and just when the glow from Wonder Woman was starting to wear off, you fall for her all over again. She’s at her best when stopping a terrorism bombing at the beginning and going right after Steppenwolf showing no fear whatsoever.
The montage of the great battle between Steppenwolf and his Apokolips army versus the Atlanteans, Amazonians and even a Green Lantern (or two), while too short, was so much fun to watch. The end battle is full of shockingly good moments, again, mostly because of Flash and Superman, and oh boy are the end credit scenes worth the wait.
Much like Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, there is a great movie lurking beneath the surface here and in someone else’s hands perhaps they would have achieved that. In spite of the large cast of super heroes, this needed a singular vision and it’s clear there was too many hands in the cookie jar.
This is a vast improvement over Dawn of Justice (despite the RT score) and provides as clear a path that we’ve had as to where the DCU could be headed. These iconic heroes took center stage and although that may have ultimately hurt this piece as a singular piece of narrative film, it has serviced the larger purpose.
The good outweighs the bad for me and seeing this animation come to life was a very pleasurable experience and I feel it’s a good time to be a fan, I will watch this movie again and again likely.
This is Zack Snyder’s swan song with the DCU as there is no chance in hell he gets the sequel after another poor reception. How this trilogy will be judged down the road is unknown at this point but one’s thing for sure, he took chances and he took risks. He tried the nearly impossible task of attempting to directly adapt comics greatest and biggest heroes on-screen in a live action format. Say what you will, but that takes guts.
When it worked, it was the type of avant-garde filmmaking that made legends out of names such as Hitchcock, Lucas and Kubrick. But when it didn’t it was befuddling and exposing and that’s what he’ll be remembered for likely.
Where the DCU goes from here who knows. In some ways they are better prepared for the future since their inception, but in many, maybe more important ways ($$$), not so much. But the future looks more bright than bleak with Wonder Woman, Flash and even a rejuvenated Superman to lead the fray forward.
Till next time…